The Cleveland Browns have not appeared on NBC’s Sunday Night Football since week two of 2008. The network bought into the Browns following their 10-6 season in 2007. The Browns lost to their hated rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fast forward to week three of 2019. The Browns are back on Sunday Night Football. The scenario is similar to 2008. Cleveland is coming off their best season since that 2007 season. This time the Browns welcome the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams to FirstEnergy Stadium for a primetime fight. What will happen, well here is a preview of what to expect.
Cleveland will be an underdog for the first time in 2019. The Browns are a three point dog to the Rams at home. Head coach Freddie Kitchens believes his team will be ready for the challenge with a short week to prepare for the Rams.
“Good preparation week. I think mentally, these guys have been good in the meeting room,” Kitchens said. “They have taken it to the field very good. Listen, I expect us to show up and play well. Those expectations have not changed, and they will not ever change. I just need 11 on each side of the ball to show up and play. I think the guys we are taking to the game will do that, and we will see.”
The spotlight will be on the battle for defensive player of the year. Myles Garrett already has five sacks on the young season. The goal is to be the defensive player of the year. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the reigning defensive player of the year and the best defender in the league. Garrett will be up for the challenge but he has to avoid being to aggressive and get called for more personal foul penalties.
“It is hurting right now because you want to play aggressive, you want to play passionate and you just want to finish the play. I am going to keep on playing with the same aggression,” Garrett said. “I just have to be smarter, better with my strike zone and try to pull off so I do not land with all my weight. That was the main point of emphasis when the refs talked to me so I just have to be better at that. I am not going to pull off on a one-step and hit on the quarterback like that. If I know I have to be two steps or more, I am going to pull off. I’m not trying to do anything dirty. I am not trying to injure anybody.”
The offensive line will have its hands full trying to contain Donald. Sunday night will mark the first time the Rams pass rusher will face Baker Mayfield. It is up to the line to avoid adding Mayfield’s name to the list of quarterbacks Donald has sacked.
“He is the best player in the league,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “You have to trust in your technique, and hopefully, watch enough film and understand the situation. He is good enough where if you take one bad step… If you are perfect in your technique, you have a chance, and you take that bad step and lean or do something wrong, that is when he takes advantage of it.”
“He is a great player. It will be a good test for us,” center J.C. Tretter said. “We will have a gameplan and a plan for him, but everyone is going to have to have their one-on-one matchups that they are going to have to win. You can’t find a way to double team a guy all of the time so we have to be good with our fundamentals and good with our technique and win one-on-one battles. That is just part of it. He is a great player so it will be a great test for all of us.”
“He is a beast,” running back Nick Chubb said. “Every play he is going full speed, 100 miles per hour. He is hard to stop. We have to do our best every play to make sure we have someone on him and someone to try and slow him down.”
Chubb will see a familiar face Sunday night. Rams running back Todd Gurley and Chubb were teammates in college at the University of Georgia. It would mean so much to Chubb to out gain and get a win over his college buddy Sunday night.
“Yeah we always talk,” Chubb said. “We stay in touch.”
Mayfield has to be better than he has been in the first two games of the season. It’s no secret and Mayfield knows he has not played like he did in his rookie season. Sunday night could be a make or break game for Mayfield because the Rams defense is solid both upfront and in the secondary.
“Their defensive line is very talented, but it allows the secondary to play a bunch of different coverages. Obviously, they have Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and they added Eric Weddle,” Mayfield said. “You have a bunch of veteran guys who have seen a bunch of route patterns and seen and played a bunch of football. It adds into making sure that my eyes are going to be in the right place at the right time and going through my reads because I can see one thing and they can react to another.”
Injuries is also a concern for the Browns. Two starters have been placed on injured reserve in the last 24 hours, linebacker Christian Kirksey and tight end David Njoku. Safety Damarious Randall will miss his second consecutive game.
Both starting cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward are questionable due to hamstring injuries. Wide receiver Rashard Higgins could miss his second straight game. The Browns need these guys to play despite not being 100 percent.
“I will leave you with this, here is what I want: I want whoever is at the game to play with passion,” Kitchens said. “I want our fans to come with passion because I promise you the guys that dress up are going to play to the best of their ability, and we will see what happens. I do not want them worried about the scoreboard. I want them to worry about how they compete every play, and we will let the score take care of itself. I want to play smart, I want to play fast and I want to play physical, whoever is on the team. I will roll with whoever is there. I think we have enough guys who are willing to go out and play well, prepare well and put everything out there for 60 minutes or however long it takes.”